Steve Murphy
Elegant Peasant

by Jim Di Gioia

April 5, 2019

Elegant Peasant defies the laws of logic and the universe, balancing its two extremes with remarkable coherence and artistry.

London-based singer-songwriter Steve Murphy set out to make “something different” (his words) with his second solo album, Elegant Peasant. His goal was to craft an album of “cognitive dissonance” (his words, again) where one side expresses itself through traditional song structure with lyrics, and the other through improvisational instrumentals that follow their own whimsy and reason. In reality, what Murphy has created is an album that seems to defy the laws of logic and the universe, balancing its two extremes with remarkable coherence and artistry (my words).

The opening song, “Hostile Takeover of Your Heart”, has a rough, unfinished quality about it. There are passages where it feels as if Murphy is wrestling his poetic lyrics into the melody, but that’s not a criticism. Even when it doesn’t feel as if its composite pieces fit together, “Hostile Takeover of Your Heart” connects, due in part to guest musician Brian Baillargeon’s violin playing. Baillargeon accentuates the tenderness in Murphy’s voices and softens the rigid ends of the Elegant Peasant’s most affecting arrangement.

Though Elegant Peasant is thematically sequenced into two distinct sides, there’s very little in the way of an emotional boundary between the divide. In fact, the transition between spoken-word tone poem “Sunrise / Sunset” and ”Shattered Frames” is practically seamless. The extended improvisation and the shorter closing song, ”Pulse”, slips in and out of clarity, subtly shifting like unpredictable weather.  Using his saxophone, Baillargeon narrates wordless stories across both tracks, weaving into Murphy’s prominent piano improvisations.

Murphy describes Elegant Peasant’s second half as “irrational, impulsive, sedative, and volcanic,” descriptors that feel both wholly appropriate and yet inadequate to capture his and Baillargeon’s beautifully idiosyncratic chemistry. Their pairing is that ”something different” that sets Elegant Peasant apart and makes it such a compelling listen.

Jim Di Gioia

Jim founded the music blog Quick Before It Melts in 2006 and was its principal writer until 2016, when its decade-long run ended 10 years to the day it started. DOMINIONATED is its spiritual successor. Jim currently serves as a Polaris Music Prize jurist and Prism Prize jurist.
Jim Di Gioia

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